LCMS vs PCA vs ACNA – What’s the Difference?

Why compare the LCMS, PCA, and ACNA? Each of these three denominations is the largest confessional church body in their denominational tradition in the US. The LCMS is so for Lutheranism, the PCA for Presbyterians, and the ACNA for Anglicans. Each is also the second-largest American church body in their tradition overall, behind a mainline body that accommodates those who are not confessional. For Lutheranism, that’s the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for Presbyterians, it’s the Presbyterian Church (USA), and for Anglicans it’s the Episcopal Church.

Additionally, each of these denominations affirms marriage between one man and one woman, while the larger denominations allow same-sex marriages.

On this website, there are videos that explain the doctrinal position of each of these three denominations. Those videos make generous use of quoting the confessions and documented positions of the churches to reference their positions. This video would be exceptionally long if I did so, and so if you want to verify any of the information presented here against written positions of the churches, I suggest you watch the individual videos.

The confessional standard of the LCMS is the Book of Concord, which contains, among other things, the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Large and Small Catechism. In the PCA it is the Westminster Confession of Faith with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the ACNA affirms the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571

On some major doctrines of Christianity, you will find each church to hold the same position. All affirm the Trinity, Literal Death and Resurrection of Christ, His virgin birth, a Literal Heaven and Hell and future judgment.

Each denomination is sacramental. Each views Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as two of those sacraments. Those are the only two in the PCA. LCMS Lutherans would commonly say the same, but Absolution may also be considered a sacrament, and is called such in the Augsburg confession.

The ACNA holds to baptism and the Lord’s supper as the two Sacraments of the Gospel, and many would stop there. However, especially the Anglo-catholics within the denomination would allow that the other five sacraments are truly sacraments, those being Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction. It’s controversial, but the ACNA’s 2019 catechism “To Be a Christian” does call those five sacraments.

All three denominations practice baptism primarily for infants, and secondarily for unbaptized adults.

The LCMS and PCA view immersion, pouring, and sprinkling as acceptable modes, but primarily practice sprinkling. The ACNA endorses immersion and pouring.

The LCMS believes that new birth and regeneration happens in baptism. The PCA believes baptism is a sign of regeneration, but that the efficacy of it is not tied to the moment of baptism. The ACNA 2019 Book of Common Prayer affirms that through the water of baptism “we are made regenerate by the Holy Spirit.”

The LCMS and ACNA practice confirmation. In the PCA there may be a public profession at first communion, but it is optional.

The LCMS believes in true presence, that those who partake in communion partake in the real body and blood of Christ – in addition to the real bread. The PCA holds to a spiritual presence of Christ in the elements, and the ACNA has some variety, but Real presence is most commonly affirmed.

All three denominations believe that participation in the sacrament is a means of grace.

The LCMS, PCA, and ACNA believe in a 66-book biblical canon. Of the three, the PCA would be the one where you would hear about the apocrypha the absolute least. The LCMS is also not a place you would hear much about it, but they do publish a Bible with Apocrypha as Luther himself said the books were good to read. The ACNA doesn’t call the apocrypha canonical, but many in the pews consider them more than just helpful books. The apocrypha is in many Bibles in use in ACNA churches, and the lectionaries in the Book of Common Prayer contain apocrypha readings.

The LCMS holds to the scripture as inerrant and infallible, as does the PCA. The ACNA hesitates to use the word “inerrant”, though at least one of its dioceses does. They do say that it is the “final authority” and “unchangeable standard”

The LCMS official position is in a literal six-day creation, and literal creation of Adam, rejecting human evolution. Many in the pews do believe differently though. The PCA teaches a literal creation of Adam and eve too, but does allow for more latitude on the length of creation. The ACNA holds no required viewpoint on the age of the earth or human evolution.

All three denominations affirm a human sin nature originating in Adam’s sin.

The LCMS rejects the idea of a one-time born again salvation experience. This is also generally rejected in the ACNA. Most in the PCA would affirm the idea of a salvation event.

All three denominations deny that good works are required for justification.

On Calvinism, the PCA holds to all of the five points, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistable Grace and Preservation of the Saints.

The LCMS holds to Total Depravity, but denies the other four points.

The ACNA affirms predestination generally, but doesn’t require any particular view on the five points.

The LCMS is mostly not accepting to the charismatic movement within its churches. The PCA’s book of church order is cessationist, and similarly charismatic practice is restricted. The ACNA would be the most friendly to Charismatism, with even some ministers being Charismatic. The reception a charismatic individual would have in the ACNA would vary depending on the diocese.

On eschatology, The LCMS is amillennial. The ACNA and PCA are open to many views, amillennial being most common, and other views like postmillennial and classical premillennial also represented. Dispensationalism would be frowned on in all three denominations.

On homosexuality, all three denominations believe it to be sinful and reject the practice of Gay marriage.

All three denominations teach that marriage is a life-long covenant, but allow for divorce as acceptable under certain circumstances.

The LCMS and PCA particularly note that when a spouse commits sexual unfaithfulness or abandons their partner, these are legitimate grounds for divorce.

They also state that remarriage should not take place after a divorce for unbiblical reasons, but is permitted after a divorce for biblical reasons.

The ACNA is not so precise in its official statements, but those views would be very common. A bishop is required to approve marriages to be performed by clergy of the church if either party is divorced.

All three denominations are opposed to abortion.

All three denominations have churches that operate in different styles, with some more high church, and others more contemporary.

There are many congregations in each denomination that follow their historical tradition practice and don’t utilize contemporary worship styles or music at all, and those who are theologically opposed to it.

None of the three denominations are opposed to the responsible use of alcohol.

The LCMS does not teach required tithing, while the PCA and ACNA teach that the tithe, or 10% of one’s income is the minimum standard of giving to the church.

LCMS churches have congregational polity, the PCA has Presbyterian, and the ACNA has episcopal.

In LCMS churches, the ordained offices are pastor and deacon. In the PCA there are elders and deacons, with elders divided into teaching and ruling elders. In the ACNA, there are Bishops, priests, and deacons.

The LCMS does not ordain women to pastor or deacon, but has unordained deaconesses. The PCA ordains only men as elders and deacons, and frowns on unordained women deacons, though it has happened in PCA churches. The ACNA allows the dioceses to decide on priests and deacons, so some dioceses do ordain women and others don’t, but in all cases bishops are to be men only.

None of the denominations require clergy to be celibate.

Of the three, only the PCA is in the National Association of Evangelicals. None are part of the World Council of Churches or National Council of Churches.

The LCMS is the largest of the three denominations, with 1,968,641 members in 6,046 congregations, followed by the PCA with 383,721 members in 1,915 congregations, and the ACNA with 127,624 members in 972 congregations.


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